I have anorexia,
I manage to say with an exasperated breath as they wheel me into the emergency room. “You don’t look sick to me,” the nurse sweetly replies after she lifts up the thin white blanket draped over my body as if she’s hunting for evidence.
These are the moments that shrink me in size. The are the moments that give my eating disorder even more power. They’re the moments that remind me my work using my story to educate is not done yet.
More than skin deep
I’ve spent the past two decades with an eating disorder. And yet, I’ve never looked anything like the vision most people have in their minds of what someone with anorexia looks like.
I’ve been overweight and I’ve been underweight. I’ve been muscular and I’ve been atrophied.
But the severity of my eating disorder and the suffering it’s brought me didn’t diminish because others would not legitimize it. The lack of validation from those around me merely kept me from feeling worthy of seeking treatment.
I spent years staring at the reflection in the mirror asking myself if I looked sick enough yet. I wasted so much time waiting society to give me the final affirming nod that I was thin enough for a diagnosis.
But “sick” has no one look or exact specifications.
“Sick enough” too often became a trap that kept me away from the treatment I so desperately needed. No matter what I weighed, my pain was real. My outward appearance was not an accurate gauge of the battle I was waging on the inside.
The societal pressure that you need to be a gaunt, walking skeleton to be considered ill needs to shift. Eating disorders are present in a spectrum of symptoms.
Regardless of where you fall on that spectrum, you’re still worthy and in need of validation and support.
I wish I realized 20 years ago that “sick enough” rarely presents itself on anything but a tombstone. I wish I could tell my teenage self that recovery isn’t dependent on the physical severity of an eating disorder.
If I could go back and tell my 14-year-old self that I didn’t have to disappear to be seen, I would. I would tell her that no number on the scale would ever bring her the feeling of worthiness she was hopelessly hunting down.
“There are no prerequisites for receiving treatment”, I would tell that girl as I tried to shake the insecurities out of her.
I wish I could save her from the years of pain as she suffered in silence, but I can’t. Sadly, I can’t change what has already happened. I can only hope speaking to my pain and the time I lost waiting to feel worthy enough will bring someone else closer to realizing they deserve help.
Every battle fought will leave its scars. Don’t wait until they’re too deep to heal.